FemFocused: Interview with author Casey Dexter

You’re really gonna like today’s interview, I can promise you that.

Welcome to the blog, writer and author Casey Dexter!

How did I come to track down the illustrious author? Casey is a fellow Delta Gamma sister (ITB) and college colleague, as we went to Penn State together and were in the same pledge class.

Casey has just released her debut novel, Industry Friends, which highlights the “chaotic, uncertain, humbling, and lonely experience of being a 20-something.” The novel also takes us to the behind-the-scenes of television, which is something Ms. Dexter has plenty of experience of, as you’ll read below.

Casey has been a lifelong writer, starting early in high school as copy editor of her yearbook. She’s since continued as a student of the Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC where she’s taken sketch comedy writing classes. She’s published several satirical articles on digital comedy platforms Slackjaw and Points in Case and has been featured in a print literary magazine for her creative non-fiction work.

I’m so grateful to Casey for taking the time to chat with her during her busy week (she threw a fabulous launch party just this past weekend), and I cannot wait to devour this book. Enjoy Casey’s interview below!

Firstly, congratulations on the release of your debut novel, Industry Friends! I have so many questions for you, but my first would have to be what inspired you or drove you to begin writing a novel.

Thank you! I’ve always loved having creative side projects in addition to my full time job, and before I started the book I just had this feeling that I was ready for a new challenge. Pre-pandemic, I was taking sketch comedy writing classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) in NYC and really loved it. I looked forward to class every week and was excited to share my sketches (SNL table-read style) with my smart, funny, and collaborative classmates. I’m big on having hobbies outside of work that make you think in a totally different way. Unfortunately, classes stopped when the pandemic hit, and I felt like I’d lost a really important outlet. I contemplated grad school, writing a pilot script, moving to LA, everything – the works! My friend, Chloe Cullen, told me about a book program she was doing, and I instantly knew that’s what I wanted to do. Thinking of the story was actually the easy part! I had gone through some career-related experiences that I felt were seldom talked about, and I knew I wanted to shed light on the unhealthy worship of a “dream job.

You’ve had an incredible career working in late night television, from Conan to Seth Meyers, to also being an NBC Page. How have those experiences inspired your novel? 

For the longest time I was obsessed with pop culture and television and knew that was what I wanted to do as a career. Every time I set foot in a new studio, whether it was for shows like Conan, SNL, or the Today Show, it felt like a religious experience. It was a privilege to contribute to the success of shows that I’d grown up idolizing.

However, those jobs have a non-glamorous side too, and by twenty-five I started to feel really burnt out. I loved working in TV so much, but it completely dominated my life. I struggled finding ways to balance being a young, fun person in the city with a demanding career and dwindling physical/mental health because I wasn’t sleeping enough. (Of course, this is just my experience– I know people who are still in television and can balance it all, and I am jealous of them!)

Those combined experiences of incredible highs and unforeseen lows definitely served as the inspiration for my novel. I wanted to show a peek behind the curtain of how cool, yet tough, working in TV can be. The podcasts, books, TV shows, and films I had turned to when starting my career failed me after I’d gotten a “foot in the door.” They all taught me how to work hard and pursue my passion, but none of them addressed what to do when I was dissatisfied. They didn’t explain how I would know when it was time to leave. In fact, I noticed most stories stopped once the main character reached their goal. But what happens after? What if their goal wasn’t what they expected? 

I wanted to show the “aftermath” in my novel, because I think it’s important for people to know that there is life on the other side of tough decisions or letdowns. Plus, I feel like a lot of people have these realizations in their 20’s and feel embarrassed- even though it’s not their fault. We are allowed to change our minds or admit we feel disappointed by something.

Could you share a bit about what your writing process is like? When you experience writer’s block or were stuck on writing a chapter, how do you/did you deal with that? 

I wrote my book entirely out of order! I’m not sure if that’s recommended… I just tried to think about what I felt excited by that day, and that’s the chapter that I would write. Writer’s block is so tough, and so I really wanted to make sure I felt energized by whatever I was writing or editing in the moment.

My program, The Creator Institute, was also really helpful. I could always reach out to my editors or fellow writers for inspiration. They also hosted zoom sessions where all we would do was write, but it felt nice to have “company” and a dedicated time to writing. I woke up early several mornings a week and committed to an hour of writing before work. And then also committed to an hour of writing after work. Just sticking to those little blocks of time, no matter how productive, really helped me turn my chapters into a story.

At the end of the day, I definitely still look back at my book and think of all the things I want to change but just didn’t think of in the moment. It’s natural. It doesn’t make it any easier to realize you overlooked a potentially good idea, but I think that’s all part of the creative process. You just try to bring whatever you missed into your next creative endeavor.

We are allowed to change our minds or admit we feel disappointed by something.

Casey Dexter

Did you have people in your life that you would turn to when writing this novel? What advice helped you throughout your writing process?  

Absolutely! Even though the actual writing of my book was done alone, it was an incredibly collaborative process. I had weekly zoom meetings with my editor who was so helpful and great. He understood early on what I was trying to do (despite me submitting chapters out of order) and really helped me shape my story arc and heighten the tension. 

I also sought advice from my friend, Chloe, who is a really talented writer, on deadlines, first drafts, copyediting, etc. Because she did the program first, she was my guiding light on what to expect.

Lastly, I turned to my industry friends, who shared their anecdotes, thoughts, and reactions to working in television, and that really helped me when I felt like my plot was lagging.

My final question for you… One thing I’ll always remember about you is your love for Conan O’Brien. What is your all-time favorite Conan bit or joke?

LOL Conan is the best!!! My opinion of him hasn’t changed in all the years I’ve been a fan– he is truly the most genuine man in television. My first internship ever was at Conan and it really set the bar high. It was the best job I ever had in the industry–and I pit cheese plates in the dressing rooms!! (among other things). It just goes to show how an amazing work environment can lead to professional happiness and growth. I was able to experience so much in that summer because of how friendly the staff was and how out of their way they went to make sure I got the full late night TV knowledge.

From his bits with Jordan Schlansky, to his trips to countries like Haiti and Cuba, there are so many good moments, but I think my favorite bit of Conan’s is actually whenever Paul Rudd is a guest. Since 2004 Rudd has been trolling Conan by playing a clip from the 1988 film “Mac and Me” instead of showing a clip from his newest movie. He even did it most recently on Conan’s podcast. It always makes me laugh.

Thank you so much Casey, and congratulations again! Buy Industry Friends today!

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